The banality of evil

crystallised structures of cisnormativity and tactics of resistance in a Brazilian gender clinic


  • Rodrigo Borba Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
  • tommaso M. Milani University of Gothenburg and University of the Witwatersrand



banality of evil, cisnormativity, discrimination, resistance, tactices


The aim of this article is to unveil how cisnormativity is institutionalised in a Brazilian gender clinic, creating an emotionally charged local regime of doctor/ patient interactions. Our interest is not only in illustrating how the clinic’s institutionalised normatitivies about transbodies are the result of the crystallisation of particular transnational medical discourses, but also in showing how such a normative framework creates specific conditions for trans people’s acts of resistance. In order to capture this dual perspective on norms and resistance to them, we draw upon three important but somewhat neglected perspectives in sociolinguistic and discourse analytical research, which may bring some fresh insights to the study of language and discrimination more broadly: Hannah Arendt’s (1994) reflections on the ‘banality of evil’; Michel de Certeau’s (1984) ideas about the no less banal ways in which social actors speak back to power via a plethora of ‘tactics of resistance’; and transfeminism’s critique of language and the banalisation of hegemonic systems of oppression.

Author Biographies

Rodrigo Borba, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

Rodrigo Borba works at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Applied Linguistics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. His research interests include a wide range of areas such as queer linguistics, linguistic landscapes, verbal hygiene, and discourse analysis with an activist and research focus on the relations between discourse, gender and sexuality.

tommaso M. Milani, University of Gothenburg and University of the Witwatersrand

Tommaso M. Milani is Professor of Multilingualism at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He has written extensively on issues of language, gender and sexuality in several international journals. He is Co-Editor of the journal Gender & Language.


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How to Cite

Borba, R., & Milani, tommaso M. (2017). The banality of evil: crystallised structures of cisnormativity and tactics of resistance in a Brazilian gender clinic. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 1(1), 7–33.